Archives for posts with tag: prison movies

Escape Plan

Sylvester Stallone, who previously suffered and grunted to great effect in the excellent Lock Up (1989), gets thrown into the slammer again in Escape Plan as Ray Breslin, the Harry Houdini of incarceration. Breslin is so adept at egress from maximum security penitentiaries that he actually makes his living at it, hiring out his services to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and going undercover in different correctional institutions across the country to test their tightness. Breslin finds himself in the bind of his life when he agrees to try his hand at the Tomb, a CIA-commissioned, privately operated black prison “off the grid” and designed for containing dissidents the government would prefer to see “disappeared”. This time Breslin’s sentence is more than a game.

A gray-haired Arnold Schwarzenegger plays second fiddle to Stallone’s hero, but does add considerably to the fun of the film. He is given one moment of greatness equal to his larger-than-life persona when, in testosterone-mainlining slow motion, he levels a machine gun and mows down a gallery of disposable baddies. Jim Caviezel, unfortunately, is inadequate to the task of furnishing proper antagonism for the likes of the two leading titans. Sam Neill collects a paycheck for playing a tiny supporting role as the prison’s doctor, while Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson keeps it real representin’ the African-American computer genius community as Breslin’s loyal “techno-thug” Hush.

Escape Plan has exactly two things going for it: Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The script is lame and about as original as the title, with typical lines of dialogue being, “You hit like a vegetarian”; “I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you, motherfucker!”; and, still more amazing, this brilliantly sarcastic coup of a zinger: “Have a lovely day, asshole.” Weaknesses aside, the story is fast-paced, the performances are fun, and the dynamite action combo of Stallone and Schwarzenegger will be a difficult one for fans to resist.

3.5 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Escape Plan is:

7. Anti-tobacco. A guard’s routine of taking a smoke break causes him to be distracted.

6. Pro-miscegenation. The streets of New Orleans teem with interraciality.

5. Anti-Christian. Schwarzenegger, putting on a show of insanity for the guards, spouts religious nonsense in German. Stallone tears a page out of a Bible and burns it.

4. Anti-torture. Guards pummel Stallone and force water down Schwarzenegger’s throat with a hose.

3. Anti-neoconservative. The Tomb, with its savagery, high-tech surveillance, and disregard for citizens’ constitutional rights, serves as a microcosm of life in post-9/11 America. Giving the lie to the Islam-bashers, Muslim prisoners are violent only when they are provoked.

2. Anti-cronyism/anti-capitalistic. The Tomb is operated by “Blackwater rejects” who do the dirty work of corrupt, authoritarian governments and international bankers. “From a financial standpoint I like it,” Breslin’s business partner (Vincent D’Onofrio) says on hearing about the Tomb and the money he stands to make by cooperating with the CIA. Schwarzenegger is an anarchist or revolutionary of some sort who seeks to bring down the financial establishment.

1. Anti-state. The Tomb is administered by the significantly monickered Mr. Hobbes (Jim Caviezel), who boasts, “In here you have no control over any part of your life, except your breathing.” Of interest, too, is the deindividuated design of the brutal prison screws, who wear S.W.A.T.-flavored get-ups and charcoal-black masks with Caucasian features. Could this be a commentary on the reality of life under fake black president B.O., whose ballyhooed skin color masks exactly the same opportunism that motivated his predecessors in office?

Like the 1980 Australian prison film Stir, this 2011 British entry in the genre offers not simply another portrait of life on the inside for the convicts, but an example of how the daily stress of the job can affect the outnumbered guards or “screws”.  James D’Arcy stars as Sam Norwood, an Iraq war veteran and rookie prison guard whose choice of civilian occupation only exacerbates his post-traumatic battle flashbacks.  Under the bad influence of fellow guard Deano (Frank Harper), Sam turns to drinking and hard drugs and eventually finds himself the subject of a police investigation.  Even worse, when drug-related organized crime inside the prison threatens Sam’s professional and personal lives, his behavior becomes increasingly erratic.  Twisting the knife in him psychologically is criminally connected inmate Truman (Noel Clarke).

D’Arcy’s performance deserves much of the credit for making Screwed an involving experience, and supporting players Harper and Jamie Foreman contribute believable grit and an air of experience.  That Sam Norwood is such a deeply flawed protagonist may limit the sympathy he can command, but it also raises the stakes and therefore the suspense that his situation generates.  Viewers discouraged by Screwed‘s somewhat drab exposition are advised to give the film more time, as it improves and intensifies as it builds towards its frightening riot climax.  Some moments, such as Sam’s verbal exchanges with his wife, feel overly familiar; and much of the mumbled, whispered dialogue, a challenge compounded by the working class British accents, may also frustrate the American audience; but Sam’s story draws the viewer in as it deepens and the situations become more unsettling and urgent.  Not a bad little film, Screwed earns 3 out of 5 possible stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Screwed is:

5. Anti-feminist.  “Don’t you sweetheart me, ya fuckin’ prick,” a tough-talking female guard says before being put out of commission with a punch in the face.  Sex-based workplace discrimination would seem to be in order here.

4. Antiwar.  Wars inevitably send home thousands, not only of the physically wounded, but psychologically damaged and brittle young men.

3. Diversity-skeptical.  Minorities can contribute to law enforcement, but figure more prominently among the convicts.  “Please tell me he ain’t shaggin’ her,” one guard says at the sight of one ogre-like brown prisoner receiving a white woman visitor.

2. Drug-ambivalent.  The liquor and hard drugs run the risk of ruining Sam’s career and marriage, but smoking cigarettes, as he does in solidarity with Rumpole (Foreman) in one scene, is the philosophically manly thing to do.

1. Anti-state.  Guards must deal not only with the occasionally vicious convicts, but with the corrupt and antagonistic “guv’ner” or warden (David Hayman) who sometimes likes to target guards for internal investigation and persecution so as to be able to present himelf as a liberal reformer.  Some among the guards are also crooks in addition to engaging in unnecessary brutality toward the prisoners.

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